Oct 24, 2020 2:35 PM

REVIEW: Inmate evacuations underway at Norton prison

Posted Oct 24, 2020 2:35 PM

Efforts being made to bring large COVID outbreak under control

Phillips County Review

With Norton County in northwest Kansas in the midst of having the largest per capita outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States, state health and government authorities are scrambling to bring it under control there.

As the disease continues spreading rapidly through the prisoner population at Norton Correction Facility, inmate evacuations are currently underway, with dozens being transported out of the pandemic zone to relative safety at Lansing Prison on Friday, where they are being placed in quarantine.

The number of positive cases at the Norton prison increased from 108 on Monday to over 200 on Wednesday, and on past 300 on Friday, presently affecting close to half of the facility’s population.

With over 200 new cases this week in the prison alone, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment listing just 77 throughout the county for the same time frame in its reporting by age groups, in response to a query from the Phillips County Review KDHE spokesman Kristi Zears advised the Review Friday night, “with the large increase in a short period of time, there is an expected lag time to when a case is identified and when it may be associated with a cluster.”

In explaining KDHE efforts to tie the NCF cases as being related to one another, Zears continued, “In terms for the number of cases associated with an outbreak, cases are associated or linked to a particular location through public health investigations. After public health is notified about a case, case investigators interview the case and through the interview process may determine that the case was associated with a particular cluster.”

In addition to the outbreak at NCF, Andbe Home — a Norton retirement facility for the aged — made nationwide news when it was reported five days ago all 62  residents there had contracted  the disease, with 10 of them dying.

Another 12 Andbe Home staff members and others associated with the facility have also contracted the disease.

In response to the Andbe outbreak, the Review has contacted the Kansas governor’s office and inquired regarding what was being done to assist in Norton.

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s spokeswoman Lauren Fitzgerald responded by stating, “After being informed of the COVID-19 outbreak at the nursing home facility in Norton [last] Saturday, Gov. Kelly immediately directed the Kansas Division of Emergency Management to provide resources to the county to help mitigate the outbreak.  Since then, the state has provided personal protective equipment, test kits, ventilators, Remdesivir and other additional resources. KDHE has been in regular communication with the Norton County Health Department and Norton County Hospital to help provide guidance and coordinate the response to prevent any further outbreak.

“Gov. Kelly remains concerned about the rising rates of COVID-19 in rural Kansas communities, and strongly encourages counties to adopt her order mandating that residents wear protective masks whenever they are in public and unable to social distance.”